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Bending Marble at the Bent and Light Showroom

by | Aug 23, 2019 |

An earlier version of this article originally appeared in Building Stone Magazine.

MM Galleri’s new showroom in Singapore is far from typical. The Indonesian-based stone producer, distributor, and fabricator partnered with designer Budi Kurniawan to create a whimsical design reminiscent of the underworld of the Great Barrier Reef. The design demonstrates how MM Galleri’s groundbreaking marble bending technology can transform an empty space into a sophisticated fantasy world.

The design concept was fueled by the desire to dispel the perceptions that marble is unyielding and heavy. Designer Budi Kurniawan explained that the showroom design was inspired by the story of Finding Nemo and intended to reflect underwater life. “Along with the emergence of technology, we created a design concept to realize the dream. Taken from sequences where Merlin (Nemo’s father) and Dory (his father’s friend) are looking for missing Nemo, we created an organic cocoon to imitate the underwater experiences inside the showroom. We also take moments, starting from when Nemo goes to school with friends — gurgling and exploring the underwater world surrounded with corals and other sea creatures. There’s also a garden which represents corals, sea creatures, and underwater life. Those are parts of our inspiration for this project.”

Company President Peter Tjioe explained that the original concept of the showroom was done by Kurniawan, who intended for it to mimic the organic shape created by Zaha Hadid at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul, South Korea. Because MM Galleri wanted to showcase the application of the bended marble technology, not aluminum panels, Tjioe revamped the entire design on his own and realized it within 10 months using the floor plan Kurniawan had developed. “The Singapore showroom is meant to feature the bended marble technology as the latest innovation established by our group,” said Tjioe. “After I was done with the marble ‘cocoon’ structure, Budi [Kurniawan] came to do the interior design, including the lighting and honeycomb table. All of the furniture is designed and produced by MM Galleri.”

According to Tjioe, the showroom in Singapore is MM Galleri’s latest expansion outside of Indonesia after inventing the bending marble technology. The company is the number one stone player in Indonesia, and possibly the largest player in the Southeast Asian market. MM Galleri’s project portfolio includes Shangri-La Jakarta, Westin Bali, Singapore Embassy in Jakarta, private yachts, and high-end residences.

Design considerations

Tjioe and his design team gave careful thought to creating a sophisticated and fluid design. “We had to ask ourselves, ‘How do we showcase the application of bended marble?’ The typical usage of marble is for flooring and walls which are very two dimensional. We wanted to change the world’s mindset for stone, so that it is no longer rigid.” Tjioe notes that the team also questioned which marble to showcase, and to what degree it could be bent. “Since the technology is brand new, we had to experiment to see which stones would suit the showroom best. We soon realized that Italian marble seemed to be pliable enough to create beautiful pieces. We have also been working very closely with GDA Marmi e Graniti’s Statuarietto [marble] quarry for a few large projects and are experienced with it. This is the biggest bended marble piece we have done so far.”

Tjioe chose the stone because it is renowned for being extremely dense and beautiful in terms of veining. “It is one of the least troublesome stones you could use for any stone application,” he said.

The new patented technology was created in order to revolutionize the stone industry. “As we all know, stone is rigid, fragile and heavy,” Tijoe said. “I sought to change this concept. I started by developing the technology to slice marble as thin as 1mm thick. This would make marble lighter, but more fragile. I then reinforced the marble with many backing options, such as honeycomb or glass to reduce its fragility. But marble would still be rigid after all this, hence I spent 20 years studying the technical details to be able to figure out how to bend marble.”

Fabrication and installation

The first step in realizing the design was to build a steel structure for the cocoon, which would serve as a mold onto which the 2mm-thick bended marble would be laminated. “In parallel with the creation of the structure, we bended and laminated marble on parts of the structure that were finished,” explained Tjioe. “We completed the entire structure in our factory in Surabaya, Indonesia, so we had to cut it into pieces to fit into a 20-foot container for shipping to Singapore. It took us about eight containers to ship everything in, and we sent 30 men to install it over a period of two months. The cocoon was the biggest bended piece we’ve done so far, so it really tested our teamwork and workmanship to fulfill the deadline.”

The innovator’s inspiration became reality in his desire to maximize the yield of marble used while reducing stone waste. “Normally, stone fabricators use an entire block of stone to create curved pieces like pillars, but with this technology we only need to use a few slabs of marble to do the same thing,” said Tjioe. “The material is cut thinner (standard 20mm vs. 2mm) and is more flexible in application.”

According to Tjioe, the backing can be anything as long as it has structural integrity. “In this case, we first created a metal structure as a mold, then “bended” the marble accordingly,” he explained. “This mold was reinforced with a steel structure before cutting it in the factory and reassembling it in the actual showroom location.

“The concept is not only applicable on floor, wall, and ceiling, but it’s also shown on the furniture pieces, such as a bar counter, spiral-shaped table, benches and a few more. Decorative lighting is also part of the design. Using thin slices of the material, we bended them into attractive shapes, such as forms of jellyfish. We wanted every remaining piece to be useful.”

Tjioe explained that the work is more like a craftsmanship, which is adjustable according to the field conditions. “The challenge is on how to make the marble pattern connect continuously and smoothly,” he said. “We cover connections with special treatment, in order to make the looks appealing and natural. All aspects are taken into account in details, such as air circulation inside the showroom project. Inspiration came from gills of fish, where direction of openings are distinguished with; facing up for air supply and air return with facing down. Audio and ambience were also taken into account, specifically to avoid the echo effect, which is likely due to the material and its cave-like structure.”

The Bent and Light showroom was honored with a 2018 Pinnacle Award of Excellence in the Commercial Interior category. While members of the jury were in awe of the project, at first they weren’t convinced that the curved walls were made of stone because they had never seen anything like this type of application before. Among the comments from the jury were: “It’s an important time in the industry and this is pushing the envelope. Can’t wait to see more like this one day – this may be the future of stone applications.”